There could be as many as two starters missing on the defensive line when the Browns suit up on opening day in 2021. Half of the pass rush and run stoppage is quite a lot to change.
DE Olivier Vernon is an Unrestricted Free Agent. So is DT Larry Ogunjobi. Both started this past year and were key cogs to the defense. Ogunjobi started 15 games while Vernon had 13 starts. Backup DT Vincent Taylor is also in this category.
It is quite possible that neither player will remain in Cleveland going forward. While Vernon’s $11 million salary in 2020 is cause for not re-signing him along with his injury history, Ogunjobi was only paid $2.13 million and was quite durable, yet his production was at an all-time low.
The other DT, Sheldon Richardson, is also durable as he started all 16 games with 64 tackles, 10 QB hits, five tackles-for-loss, 4.5 sacks, one forced fumble, three batted passes, 12 hurries, four knockdowns, 22 pressures with only three missed tackles. Richardson (6’-3”, 294 pounds) has shown he is an important part of the defense and remains former GM John Dorsey’s best free agent signing.
Also on the roster is Andrew Billings (6’-1”, 328 pounds), who Cleveland signed last season in free agency but was a COVID opt-out. He had 80 total tackles in his three seasons in Cincinnati with just 3.5 sacks and 12 QB hits. Then there’s Jordan Elliott, who the Browns drafted with its first of two third-round selections in last year’s NFL draft. Elliott (6’-4”, 302 pounds) played in all 16 games with one start and in the second half of the season played 79% of defensive snaps.
Is this DT position set? Will Taylor or Ogunjobi be re-signed? If not, can Billings or Elliott slide into that open slot on the defensive line at tackle and offer the solution they were hired for? Who will end up being the much-needed depth? What are some free agent options at defensive tackle for the Browns?
Larry Ogunjobi (6’-3”, 305 pounds)
Draft: 2017 third-round Browns
2020 cap number: $2.133 million
2021 free agency ranking: 198
2021 salary prediction: One-year, $2-$3 million
Let’s get right after it. Ogunjobi’s production numbers have regressed each season. Now that he has completed his fourth-year with Cleveland, he had his lowest statistics since his rookie campaign. If GM Andrew Berry was to re-sign him, it would be at a savings, familiarity with the coaching staff and perhaps as depth instead of a starting position.
He had just 46 total tackles this year and ended the year with a very low grade of 53.0 on Pro Football Focus (PFF). This marked the second year in a row that Ogunjobi ranked 104th for a defensive grade. Every other stat is also his lowest since he was drafted in 2017 including six QB hits, five tackles for loss, 2.5 sacks, 12 pressures, two knockdowns, six hurries plus he led all defensive linemen on the Browns with seven missed tackles. He ranked 126th in run defense this year.
Ogunjobi’s down-to-down consistency fell off on a weekly basis despite being an adequate run stopper. Will sign as a backup whether it is in orange and brown or somewhere else.
Lawrence Guy (6’-4”, 314 pounds)
Draft: 2011 seventh-round pick Indianapolis Colts
2020 cap number: $5.87 million (New England Patriots)
2021 free agency ranking: 153
2021 salary prediction: One-year, $6-$7 million
If the Browns want the defensive tackle position solved without breaking the bank look no further than Guy. His 2020 stats include 57 total tackles, 11 pressures, five knockdowns, four hurries, seven QB hits, two sacks, and four tackles for loss. This man equals production including 53 QB hits in his career.
In his 10 seasons as a professional, Williams graded out his highest in the 2018 Patriots’ Super Bowl run with a righteous 90.4, but fell to 68.2 last year. A true run stopper, he is an excellent B and C gap defender. If he is one thing that would have to be consistency. Not the ideal pass rusher and has a propensity to miss tackles at times, but is a constant disruption.
A legitimate talented player who has been one of the best interior defensive linemen in the NFL for the past several years. An elite run stopper who still has a few years left in the tank.
Dalvin Tomlinson (6’-3”, 318 pounds)
Draft: 2017 second-round Giants
2020 cap number: $1.45 million
2021 free agency ranking: 40
2021 salary prediction: Four-years, $53 million
This player is a run stopping machine. Tomlinson is only an average pass rusher, but has a nose for the ball carrier. Graded out at 75.1 this past year on PFF, but that ranking is tainted in that his run stoppage abilities outgained his lack of getting into the backfield and the quarterback’s face.
2020 stats include 49 total tackles, 10 QB hits, 22 pressures, 4.5 sacks, four knockdowns, 12 hurries with only three missed tackles.
Tomlinson is able to play either DT spot, is a finisher, is a sure tackler and can take on double-team blocks with some success. Played in a very successful Giants defensive front that included Leonard Williams plus Dexter Lawrence.
Shelby Harris (6’-2”, 290 pounds)
Draft: 2014 seventh-round Oakland Raiders
2020 cap number: $3.09 million (Denver Broncos)
2021 free agency ranking: 47
2021 salary prediction: Three-years, $34 million
Harris isn’t getting a ton of attention, but is a solid player. Is very quick and will consistently rank in the Top-5 of run stoppage. He is an excellent pass rusher as well. Harris is coming off a season where he played well but suffered a knee injury in the Broncos second-to-last game which placed him on IR.
When healthy, Harris is a revelation and was one of the few positives on the Broncos defense all season. 2020 was his breakout year before the injury. Harris has been listed as a priority to re-sign for Denver GM George Paton as he graded out at 88.3.
Harris appeared in 11 games for Denver this season and posted seven pass breakups, one forced fumble, 2.5 sacks, 32 tackles, four tackles for loss and 11 quarterback hits.
Ndamukong Suh (6’-4”, 313 pounds)
Draft: 2010 first-round (pick #2) Detroit Lions
2020 cap number: $8 million (Tampa Bay Buccaneers)
2021 free agency ranking: 104
2021 salary prediction: One-year, $6 million
As a fan of the game of professional football, you either love Suh or you hate him. He once was one of the greatest physical phenoms on the defensive line in the NFL, but age has caught up with him. Still, he remains a force to be reckoned with.
Suh played his lowest snaps of his career this past season with 788, but during his playing time he netted 29 pressures, 19 QB hits, 44 total tackles, six sacks, nine tackles for loss, one forced fumble, 13 knockdowns, 10 hurries, and now adorns a Super Bowl ring. His play remains nasty with a relentless motor as a productive interior tackle. His PFF grade for 2020 was 61.8.
Tyson Alualu (6’-3”, 302 pounds)
Draft: 2010 first-round (pick #10) Jacksonville Jaguars
2020 cap number: $3.63 million (Pittsburgh Steelers)
2021 free agency ranking: 108
2021 salary prediction: One-year, $5-$6 million
Despite reaching beyond the 30-year old mark several years ago, Alualu produced one of his best career seasons for the Steelers. His PFF mark of 89.6 topped his best year. An excellent run stopper but an average pass rusher, Alulalu would best served in situational downs and not necessarily as an every-down DT.
Had 38 total tackles with just 452 snaps. His other stats were five QB hits, two sacks, four tackles for loss, eight pressures and four knockdowns. Alualu is a durable player who would be able to man first and second downs in a rotational situation.